New Diorama Theatre – until 23 March 2019
Kandinsky manage to bring this fascinating story to life with bundles of imagination and energy – but it all feels rather rushed.
Following the discoveries of Gideon Mantell and his quest to prove just how creatures adapt and evolve over centuries, Kandinsky’s latest production is a lively but chaotic affair that doesn’t feel as though it explores the topics it covers deeply enough.
This is a real shame as it is a fascinating story which unfolds as Mantell, who was a doctor by profession but had a longstanding fascination with fossils, tries to convince his peers of his discoveries relating to Iguanadon – that began the scientific discovery of dinosaurs. His increasing obsession and eventually tragedy meant that he lost a lot of what was important to him – but still managed to make an important mark in scientific history.
Co-written by many of the performers in the production as well as James Yeatman, producer Lauren Mooney and Al Smith, Dinomania highlights the key points of Mantell’s life beginning with his discovery of the tooth and taking audiences right through to the end of his life. The trouble is with so many co-writers – it can mean that the play is uneven and doesn’t offer audiences enough insight into his discoveries.
However, that being said it does have a lovely sense of humour particularly in the earlier scenes that manages to keep the audience thoroughly engaged and entertained. It is consistently energetic and lively, but feels slightly rough around the edges, not paying enough attention to the detail – particularly when it comes to the more scientific discussions as Mantell tries to convince his peers of his discovery.
Yeatman’s production is very physical and creative, relying a lot on the audience’s imagination to carry the story through. This isn’t so much of a problem as the fact that with the play cramming so much into its hour and 30 minute running time it leaves very little room for character development, making it difficult to fully comprehend Mantell’s struggle to be noticed and taken seriously.
It is really only when things begin to go wrong for Mantell (Janet Etuk) that the play and the production find extra depth – the heartbreaking moment in which his wife Mary (Harriet Webb) leaves him is brilliantly performed and adds a much needed emotional core to the play.
All of the performances throughout are enthusiastic, in particular Etuk as Gideon Mantell offers a strong insight into his passion and eventual obsession with his discovery, bringing the character vividly to life. Sophie Steer is also delightful as Mary, offering a touchingly vulnerable performance that makes you instantly warm to her and Webb delivers a strong characterisation of Richard Owen – Mantell’s nemisis who exploited his work after his horrific accident.
Overall, Kandinsky showcases a fascinating story delivered with great imagination, but it feels too rushed and needs further development to cover the story and Mantell’s discovery in more detail to make more of an impact.